Sir Robert Hart Photograph Collection
Sir Robert Hart, (1835 – 1911), 1st Baronet, was the Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs from 1863 to 1908.

He was an Irishman and Queen’s Graduate born on the 20th of February 1835 in Portadown. He became a key figure in 19th Century China and was heavily involved in economics, politics, diplomacy, lighthouses, railways and the postal service. He wielded significant influence and a made a substantial contribution to China’s early modernisation and its foreign relations with the West. Hart was unique because the position he held for over 40 years, that of Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, facilitated regular access to officials in the Grand Council and Zongli Yaman, thus influencing internal reform and external relationships. He was employed by the Chinese authorities and not the Western powers during a pivotal period in China’s history. Hart’s successful career in China is often attributed to his sympathetic understanding of Chinese tradition and its influence on society and culture. Sometimes this understanding is attributed to his long term intimate relationship with Ayaou, a Chinese girl, during his early years in China, 1857-1865.

Hart’s life is marked by strong personal commitment to achievement – whether at school, university or as IG. He is of immense interest to scholars of Western history and also those of Chinese history due to the international nature of the Customs Service in his time.

The bulk of Hart’s surviving personal papers are held in Special Collections at Queen’s University Belfast. These include hundreds of letters, articles, approximately 2,500 photographs, ephemera and 77 volumes of his personal diaries. The majority of materials were donated to the University in the 1970s following the death of the last Sir Robert Hart.
The photographs in this album were selected with the assistance of the Sir Robert Hart Research Project, which is a collaboration between Special Collections & Archives in the Library, the School of Modern History & Anthropology, Queen’s University Belfast, and the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing. The research project is creating an annotated photobook from photographs originally donated in the 1970’s, and the Irons Collection. The photographs here reflect those that will be included.

Research and scanning from the Sir Robert Project Hart supported by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The Sir Robert Hart blog provides more detailed information on the Sir Robert Hart Research Project: sirroberthart.org
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